High Expectations Await MTSU Hoops

Posted at 11:30 PM, Oct 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-20 11:22:22-04

The thing that stands out when you watch Middle Tennessee's basketball team practice is the pace and physicality in which they get after it. Every period is fast, and players are expected to run from one end of the court to the other between each period.  

Kermit Davis doesn't want his team backing down from anyone or any challenge, and they don't as evidenced by wins in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. In fact, Middle Tennessee is the only school to win a game in the field of 68 each of the last two years as a double digit seed. 

And that's the other thing that's evident when you hang around Davis or the Blue Raider players. The expectations have changed on this campus. 

In March of 2016 it was considered one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history when MTSU, a 15 seed, knocked off no. 2 seed Michigan State, a trendy pick for the national championship. Last March it almost seemed expected that no. 12 Middle would knock off another Big Ten team, and it followed through by handling the fifth-seeded Golden Gophers. 

Don't call it an upset, because the belief is such these days that the Blue Raiders can play with anyone. 

And the nation is starting to notice. As I watched practice this afternoon in one corner of the gym, CBS Sports analyst and college basketball reporter Jon Rothstein sat nearby on the sideline, one of the 35 or so stops he'll make on his college hoops preseason tour. Not many "mid-majors" are making the cut for that tour. 

But that's the respect Middle Tennessee commands these days as the best current program in the state. 

This season will be different for Davis and the Blue Raiders. Gone is Reggie Upshaw, the heart and soul of the past two teams. Also departed is Conference USA Player of the Year JaCorey Williams. 

Davis will tell you that this year's team belongs to Giddy Potts, the senior sharpshooter. There's no question it will be a perimeter based team with sophomore Tyrik Dixon running the point and veteran Ed Simpson providing valuable leadership. 

And while Middle lacks experience inside it won't be devoid of talent. Alabama transfer Nick King hopes to pick up where Williams left off, and the trio of Karl Walters, Brandon Gamble and freshman Davion Thomas hope to combine to pick up the rest of the slack. 

This team may not storm out of the gate tournament ready like last year's edition, and it's unlikely to match last year's 31 win total. But a Conference USA championship remains a very realistic goal. As Simpson told me, "expectations are very high around here, we know what we can do."

And make no mistake, no one will want to see these guys in their bracket come March. 

The expectations have changed, and at this point, Middle Tennessee isn't backing down from anyone.